Tuesday 10 July 2012

Kamikaze Chipmunks & Other Hazards of Country Living

On the way back from yoga this morning, I saw a few people stopped ahead of me on the bike path.  I slowed down as I approached & saw the hold-up:  A doe and her well-grown fawn leisurely crossing the bike path.  They stopped to look at us calmly with their gentle, liquid eyes and then proceeded down the steep embankment, so well camouflaged in the undergrowth that they completely disappeared when they were only a few feet away.

In the decade I have lived here and used this bike path, I had never seen deer on it before.  The Rail Trail, as it's known locally, was made by paving over derelict railroad tracks.  There is a thin margin of trees on either side of the embankment but no real woods except at the extreme northern end, where bears have been sighted.  This particular section was near a town and the deer appeared to be heading into someone's backyard.  Since most of the Valley has long-since been cleared for agriculture, I didn't think there were any deer until you went up into the surrounding hills.

It is amazing how gentle and serene they looked.  As crepuscular animals, I wouldn't expect them to be out at midday.  They didn't seem afraid of us at all, although they should be afraid of humans.  Not us bikers in particular—I don't think anyone was packing a hunting rifle in their panniers—but humans in general.  They're only common deer—I see them virtually every time I drive on the Interstate—but for some reason seeing the doe and fawn up close seemed to cast a spell over the whole day, as if I had seen something magical.

I once saw a fisher on the bike path, and a beaver so fat I don't know how it caught fish, unless it lay in the shallows and waited for them to swim into its mouth.  Today as I got closer to home, I saw a large hawk soaring in circles over a house on the next block and I immediately knew why:  There is one woman on that block who keeps chickens.  This minor fact was apparently very interesting to the hawk.  Raptors are a common sight around here—there is a bald eagle that I sometimes see in a tree by the river—but I never tire of admiring their flying skill.

Later, I was returning from some errands in my car and had to swerve around an enormous turkey vulture that was lunching on some roadkill.  I took the back way home so I could see how the local haying was coming along and pass a horse farm where they are building a beautiful, well-organized garden with raised beds.  I also pass a sheep farm that way and the sheep and adorable lambs were out grazing on a hillside.  I can't wait until I have my own farm and can get sheep.  City Boy wants goats, but I don't.  Goats are a pain in the arse; sheep are easy, and I can spin and knit their fleece.

A daily hazard on the bike path is the many (many, many) chipmunks who dart across just in front of one's bike.  You have to keep a sharp eye for them and swerve and break to avoid crushing them under your wheels.  Sadly, I see a few flattened ones every year.  The squirrels seem less likely to choose the exact moment when a bike is passing to cross the path but they often stand up on their hind legs in the middle and don't get out of the way until you are practically on top of them.  They are usually arguing with the cardinals and robins, but seem to also have frequent disagreements with the thrushes and sparrows.  I always appreciate a cardinal sighting; I love their cheerful colouring.  Rabbits are a daily feature around here, too.  The number of baby bunnies I see along the bike path is extraordinary this year.  I mean, I know they breed like, well, you know, but perhaps the mild winter made them especially fertile this year or there are too few predators left to keep the numbers down.

Not all encounters with wildlife are pleasant:  My yoga teacher reported that she had to take her dog to the vet last night to have 26 porcupine quills removed from his nose.  She hopes that satisfied his curiosity about porcupines.  I told her I hope he doesn't move on to skunks.

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